WSUV grad pushes hard for an education

Tanner Roggenkamp, coping with a lifelong learning disability, is finishing college

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter


photoTanner Roggenkamp, left, listens during a human development class at WSUV. Doctors and teachers said Roggenkamp probably would never learn how to read or write. He proved them wrong. He's graduating Saturday from WSU Vancouver.

(/The Columbian)

Buy this photo

WSUV graduation statistics

906 total graduates.

760 bachelor's candidates.

133 master's candidates.

13 doctoral candidates.

If you go

• What: WSU Vancouver graduation. Covered, outdoor venue; umbrellas are not allowed. Concessions will be available. Accommodations for deaf and hearing-impaired guests will be available. Golf cart and wheelchair service will be provided to guests who need assistance.

• When: 1 p.m. Saturday. Parking and gates open at 11 a.m.; seating opens at 11:30 a.m.

• Where: Sleep Country Amphitheater, 17200 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

• Cost: Free, public event. No tickets required.

• Information: WSUV commencement

Becki Roggenkamp knew something was wrong with her toddler. He couldn't carry a two-way conversation, and he made up words for objects. He was at the age to enter preschool, but he couldn't sing a nursery rhyme or say his ABCs.

"Specialists told me: 'Brace yourself. He probably will never learn how to read or write,'" Roggenkamp said.

They said Tanner Roggenkamp should plan to attend trade school and work as a manual laborer.

"Thank goodness I was young and naive," Becki Roggenkamp said. "My only thought was, 'Well, what do we do about it?'"

Instead of accepting that prognosis, she found help for her son.

The La Center man is graduating from Washington State University Vancouver on Saturday with a bachelor of arts degree in human development.

"It's been a journey," Becki Roggenkamp said. "Everything that came easily to others, he had to work twice as hard. I'm so proud of him."

Their pediatrician recommended that her son be tested at the Hearing and Speech Institute in Portland. The preschooler had a severe language delay called auditory processing disorder. Simply put, his ears and brain don't work well together, so he can't process information he hears the same way other people do.

"It never really put me in a depressed state," Tanner Roggenkamp said. "It just made me want to push hard and prove others wrong."

Becki Roggenkamp enrolled her son in a private preschool, but she soon realized he would have a tough time in kindergarten. Then she found Northwest Reading Clinic, which specializes in auditory processing disorder.

"The clinic teaches outside the box and helped him with coping mechanisms to learn his own way in the conventional classroom," she said.

"He had a lot of very specific learning disabilities," Diane Budden, the clinic's director, said. "He was dyslexic. He didn't know any of his sounds or letters. He was good

at many things, but he couldn't read. He had to be taught those sounds and letters a completely different way, not by singing the ABCs the traditional way. So that's what we did."

The clinic worked with him and brought his skills up to grade level. Later, when he was having trouble with comprehension, Tanner returned to the clinic for several summers until his eighth grade.

"Finally, I told his mom, 'He's good to go. You don't need to bring him back,'" Budden said.

Tanner will always have to deal with auditory processing disorder, she said.

His school wanted to place him in special education classes, but his mom settled for having Tanner receive extra help for the minimal 20 minutes a week.

"I didn't want his confidence smothered," Becki Roggenkamp said.

She worked with her son every day at school, and he worked another 30 minutes after school.

One of Tanner's high school teachers told Becki Roggenkamp she shouldn't encourage her son to consider college.

"I didn't know about that until my freshman year of college," Tanner said. "That was the extra push I needed. I was doing better in high school than most of my friends, and I have a learning disability."

Although he has Type 1 diabetes, he was a competitive athlete at La Center High School, where he graduated in 2009.

As a senior at WSUV, he recently completed an internship with the Department of Social and Health Services. He hopes to find a job counseling patients with chronic illness, perhaps by working for the state or a clinic.

"It would give me an opportunity to connect with people who don't know how to cope with aspects of their illnesses," he said.

When Becki Roggenkamp recently visited Budden to share the news that Tanner is graduating from college, Budden said, "we cried together. He's a bright kid. He can achieve anything."

"For the next step, I'd like to speak to students and show them anything is possible," Tanner Roggenkamp said.